IVCA Feature: Logan LaHive, New Managing Director of Techstars Chicago, on the Incoming Founder Class of 2017

IVCA Feature: Logan LaHive, New Managing Director of Techstars Chicago, on the Incoming Founder Class of 2017

June 21, 2017

In February 2017, Techstars Chicago made a major shift when they named Logan LaHive – the former CEO of the universal loyalty company Belly – as the new Managing Director of the local version of the international accelerator program, replacing the former co-managing directors Troy Henikoff and Brian Luerssen.
 
Logan LaHive was a founder himself, starting up Belly while an entrepreneur-in-residence with the Chicago VC firm Lightbank. He grew up near San Francisco, and was interested in their burgeoning technology scene. After graduating from college and working in his first tech jobs, he relocated to Chicago with the intention of joining the tech boom here. His experience as a founder and with start-ups includes a focus on launching features, marketing plans, new products lines and seed businesses, with an emphasis on project management. The IVCA talked to Logan LaHive about his plans as Managing Director of Techstars Chicago.
 
IVCA: You took over as Managing Director at Techstars in February after moving from your role as CEO of Belly. What attracted you to the Director position, and how did you know it would be your next best challenge?
 
Logan LaHive: I’m a big fan of ‘Silicon Valley’... not the place, but the HBO show. And as I looked around the local landscape, I was vexed by the lack of Erlich Bachman-type leaders, and I saw this role as an opportunity to fill that void.
 
But in all seriousness, I’ve been involved with Excelerate Labs since it’s inception in Chicago, and a mentor in other Midwest accelerator programs. I’ve always been passionate about startups, and coming out of six years at the helm of Belly, I knew I wanted to get back into the founding stages. This role allows me to work directly with the startups, but in a supporting role and with resources, plus with the scale of ten companies per year. That, along with my firm belief that Chicago is the hub for tech outside of the coasts – and will continue to be – just made it a great fit.
 
IVCA: You came into the mix at a time when the application process was beginning. What struck you, in going over the applications, about the depth and variety regarding the entrepreneurs who were applying?
 
LaHive: Techstars Chicago is in the fortunate position of leveraging great local community, supported by a worldwide network and brand. That means we get a unique lens into the future, and the stage of companies we’re seeing are building what is next. So beyond the buzz words and known trends, we see new emerging tech and themes, along with the tech that’s permeating most new companies… AI, ML and NLP aren’t just buzzy terms, they are impacting how all tech companies are thinking about development moving forward.
 
IVCA: When you whittled down the applicants for the upcoming accelerator/mentorship program – beginning July 12th – what common thread were you looking for in offering the program to the ten entrepreneurs of the Class of 2017?
 
Logan LaHive: Bad ideas. We wanted non-consensus ideas. Founders that are aggressively swinging for the fences with ideas that most people don’t get on the surface. Because we believe that truly innovative and disruptive companies are built by founders who see or know something that the rest of us have missed.
 
The other main criteria was quite simple – we were looking for founding teams that turned us into fans. In short order, we reviewed applications and vetted well over 1500 companies, and met over 350 founders/teams. We narrowed to the finalists, and deeper dive down to 80, then down to top 25…. We looked at a lot of companies, and are thrilled with the teams in the cohort, to-be-announced, in July.
 
IVCA: When you first took the Managing Director position, you described the changes you wanted to make as 'philosophical.' Now that you've gone through the application process, how has that initial philosophical indication developed and how will it affect the upcoming program?
 
LaHive: Well, I’m fortunate to be standing on the shoulders of giants... with Troy Henikoff and Sam Yagan, along with the rest of the Excelerate Labs team and board, in addition to Techstars as the largest worldwide network that help entrepreneurs succeed. There are many benchmarks and best practices that are core to the program, that are well executed and highly effective – we aren’t changing what’s proven to work, or anything for the sake of change.
 
But I believe that Chicago tech has evolved and grown. There was a massive effort to develop our local ecosystem, and focus on building community. I believe the infrastructure exists today, and that the best thing for an established tech community is big companies. There will be many small optimizations through the lens of our new stated mission, which is to make Techstars Chicago the most intensely founder-focused accelerator in the world.
 
IVCA: Demo Day is tentatively scheduled for October 12th, with a venue to be determined, after the accelerator program is complete. What can potential investors expect when they come to that event this year, and how will it be a reflection of what you hope to accomplish as new manager?
 
LaHive: Well, the accelerator program is never complete... the programming may end, but a benefit of Techstars is #TechstarsForLife. But this year, investors will have multiple touch points and opportunities to connect with the founders, in environments that will be optimized for writing checks.
 
There will be an expansion of one-on-ones, smaller format meetings, a Techstars presence of other local investor events, and direct founder exposure. We’ll work to provide more content outside of the Demo Day as well, enabling broad distribution to investors. The world of early stage investing has evolved, and I believe accelerators –even the biggest and best ones like Techstars Chicago – need to adapt to the changing landscape.
 
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